Say you walk into a watch shop in 1967 dead set on buying a perfect replica Rolex. The one you fancy is the dive watch, the one that’s casual with the black bezel, simple black dial with no date, and that steel bracelet. Leather straps are so ’50s. You spot the watch, it’s called the Submariner, and you ask how much it costs. “$225,” you hear from the salesperson – no small sum but also not bank account shattering. So you pull the trigger. You don’t necessarily know it on this day, but you’ve just emerged from the store with a cheap fake Rolex Submariner ref. 5513, two-line Submariner – a watch that will not only outlive you, but will also serve to be as much a wrist companion as it is a legitimate appreciating investment piece.
We all know that watches have become a currency of their own over the last decade or so, going from objects of fascination or collection to those of trade. For much of the 2010s, steel luxury super clone Rolex got you a better return than the literal stock market. But that wasn’t part of the calculus in the 1960s. In fact, it took the better part of four decades for those original steel sport models like the early Submariners to reach their investment potential.
In the early aughts, it was basically only vintage watches – in this case, vintage 1:1 replica Rolex – which represented value. They were the sorts of pieces that made you kick yourself for not buying a whole store’s worth of Daytonas in the ’60s and ’70s so you could cash in in 2014. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but surely we’d all get in that time machine.
What’s interesting to examine is the last four decades or so, and how the Submariner both vintage and modern has risen in value both new and pre-owned. For example, using the $225 model as a comparison point, a new aaa quality replica Rolex Submariner (adjusted for inflation) should cost about $2,000. But it doesn’t. In fact, it goes for about $7,000 more than that. But before we go there, let’s see how prices have changed over the years.
Even in 1967, that $225 number was not representative of what we consider to be a luxury watch. And that’s because a high quality fake Rolex Submariner was not, in fact, a luxury watch. It was a tool watch in the realest sense of the word – a watch for diving, and swimming, a watch literally issued to various military outfits across the globe. It was a watch to put through its paces – one you could get at a nice discount if you were a service member.
It’s also important to remember that, in 1967, there were only mechanical super clone watches. There was nothing digital or quartz at scale. This allowed mechanical timepieces to sit at a relatively low price point as the industry thrived. And then we all know about the Quartz Crisis, when brands like Seiko brought battery-powered, highly accurate, and decidedly less expensive super clone watches online to market, thus undercutting and effectively destroying the Swiss watch industry.
When the dust settled, mechanical copy watches for sale morphed from antiquity to something special. You don’t need to change the battery – this thing will last forever. You should pay a premium for that, a premium for the luxury that is the mechanical watch – the luxury watch.
It’s in the mid-1980s that we see the Swiss movement replica Rolex Submariner jump up to that four-figure $1,000 mark, and then double to $2,000 in the early ’90s and then more than double again as we reach the end of the aughts and the end of the aluminum-bezel, stamped-clasp top copy Rolex Submariner era. Some of this has to do with a shift in design. The old matte dials with painted markers were replaced with glossy dials and applied markers with white gold surrounds. A Rolex fake watches online effectively increased 4x in price in a decade and then doubled in price in those that followed. But that’s the story of the ref. 5513s and the 14060s – watches we now consider to be vintage or neo-vintage.